The Tampa Bay Buccaneers follow up a very successful cross-country trip in Week Four with a shorter Week Five jaunt to New Orleans to rekindle an intra-division rivalry. It is also the second leg of a six-week, five-game journey away from Raymond James Stadium, which would feel a lot more daunting if the Bucs could start it 2-0 after an energizing 55-40 victory over the Rams.
The Saints, of course, will be looking to maintain their lead in the NFC South, as they've won both of their games since losing Drew Brees to a thumb injury, improving to 3-1 in the process. The Buccaneers are 2-2 but already have a division road win in their favor, a Week Two victory at Carolina. New Orleans will present the Buccaneers' defense with yet another supreme test in the backfield, as the visitors must now take on dual-threat back Alvin Kamara after some very strong work against Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Todd Gurley. The Saints' defense recently got Sheldon Rankins back on the field as he made his return from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in last year's playoff, and that adds more weight to a talented front that also includes Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata. The Saints have already won one game by six points and two by two points each, which has been helped by the very strong kicking duo of Will Lutz and Thomas Morstead. Here's what you need to know to prepare for all the action in the bayou.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) at New Orleans Saints (3-1)
Sunday, October 6, 1:00 p.m. ET
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (capacity: 73,000)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Laura Okmin (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers and Saints were frequent opponents in the '70s, '80s and '90s when the NFL's annual game schedule was heavily influenced by the previous year's standings. The Bucs and Saints became even more acquainted when the league changed its scheduling format to a divisional rotation in 2002, mainly because that went hand to hand with NFL realignment. The Buccaneers left their old NFC Central haunt that year to join the new NFC South, which also drew in the Saints, Panthers and Falcons. That meant two games against the Saints every year, of course. In recent years, that has been a series of season splits.
Overall, the Saints hold a 33-21 edge in the all-time series, which was first contested in 1977. That initial meeting is famously the first win in franchise history for the Buccaneers, who left New Orleans on December 11 of that year with a 33-14 victory that snapped a franchise-opening 26-game losing streak. The Bucs still had a 3-2 edge in the series by the end of 1982, which would also prove to be the end of the franchise's first run of playoff seasons. The Saints took control of the series by winning six straight in the mid-'80s.
Since they became division mates, the Bucs and Saints have squared off 34 times, 20 of them going in favor of New Orleans. Each of the last four seasons, however, has seen each team win once, and it hasn't been a simple split of home games. The Buccaneers actually won at New Orleans in 2015 and 2018. Last year's 48-40 shootout in the Superdome was the highest-scoring Week One game in NFL history.
Weirdly, the Saints beat Tampa Bay twice in that first NFC South season, even though the Buccaneers would win the 2002 division title on their way to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Those two games represented half of the Bucs' loss that year. In a minor bit of payback, a 2-12 Bucs team beat a 13-1 Saints team in the penultimate week of the 2009 season, before the Saints would go on to win their first Super Bowl.
Last year's games were high-scoring affairs. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in Week One as the Bucs stunned the Superdome crowd by building a 48-24 lead. The Bucs just barely held on for the victory against a raging Saints comeback, with a Fitzpatrick third-down scramble allowing the Bucs to run out the clock and keep the ball out of Brees' hands. In the rematch in Tampa, the Bucs once again built an early lead, 14-3, but couldn't hold it this time as the Saints scored 17 fourth-quarter points, including touchdown runs by Brees and Mark Ingram.
· Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians got his first NFL coaching job in Kansas City from 1989-92 but then returned to the college ranks in 1993. His second crack at the NFL would come in New Orleans, where he was the tight ends coach under Head Coach Jim Mora in 1996.
· Tampa Bay QB Ryan Griffin spent his first two seasons (2013-14) in New Orleans after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane. He went back to training camp with the Saints in 2015 but ended up in Tampa on a waiver claim.
· G Patrick Omameh was a late add to the Saints' training camp roster this summer, signing on July 29, but he made the active roster anyway. He was in Tampa for nearly two years at the start of his career, signing with the Bucs in October of 2013 and starting all 16 games at right guard the following year before being waived in the final cuts in 2015.
· The Bucs came close to losing TE Cameron Brate to the Saints in 2015. Brate had been released from Tampa Bay's practice squad on September 15 so the Bucs could add depth to a banged-up linebacker squad, but before they could bring Brate back he signed with New Orleans. Brate was actually on the Saints' sideline when the Buccaneers played in New Orleans the following weekend, but he didn't say in Louisiana long because Tampa Bay hastily re-signed him to their active roster.
· Saints Assistant Special Teams Coach Phil Galiano held the same post in Tampa under Head Coach Greg Schiano in 2012-13.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· New Orleans:
· Head Coach Sean Payton
· Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael
· Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen
· Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi
· Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Dan Campbell
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (UFA)
· LB/S Deone Bucannon (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick)
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· QB Blaine Gabbert (FA)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
· LB Kiko Alonso (T-MIA)
· DT Malcom Brown (UFA)
· TE Jared Cook
· S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (third-round draft pick)
· S Saquon Hampton (fourth-round draft pick)
· C Erik McCoy (2nd-round draft pick)
· RB Latavius Murray
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense is expected to be more aggressive and varied in its pass-rush packages, and will likely ask its defensive backs to play more press-man coverage than it has in the past, which plays to the strengths of many players in that unit.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could reasonably expect another strong season on that side of the ball. If anything, the Bucs may be more aggressive under Arians, whose 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy involves taking the big-play shot when you have the chance.
· The Saints gave former Panthers safety Kurt Coleman a three-year deal in free agency last year and he ended up essentially splitting one of the safety positions with Vonn Bell, opposing young standout Marcus Williams. New Orleans elected to end that Coleman run after just one year and released him in the offseason. Now Bell and Williams are the starters and the team used two of its first three draft picks to add their backups in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Saquon Hampton.
· The Saints completely switched out their special teams coaching staff in 2019, despite a strong showing from that unit last year. Special Teams Coach Mike Westhoff retired, Special Teams Coordinator Bradford Banta was fired and assistant Kevin O'Dea did not have his contract renewed. In their places, the Saints hired former Dolphins coordinator Darren Rizzi and then added Phil Galiano and Michael Wilhoite as his assistants.
· New Orleans made another addition to its coaching staff in offensive assistant D.J. Williams, who is the son of former Buccaneer quarterback and executive Doug Williams.
Division Supremacy at Stake – The Buccaneers have a chance to storm to the top of the NFC South over a period of eight days, spanning two continents. Tampa Bay is 1-0 in division play so far, with a very valuable road victory in their possession, but is a game behind the Saints in the standings. A victory would allow them to pull even with the Saints and have the upper hand with a pair of NFC South road wins, and it would set them up for the next step in Week Six, a "home" game in London against the Panthers. The Buccaneers will only be halfway through division play after those two outings, and at the very best they would only be one game in front, but they would be well set up for a second half that will feature two more division home games.
Backfield Gauntlet Continues – At some point we may need to switch this one around and say it is opposing running backs who face the biggest challenge when matched up against the Bucs' rush defense. Still, it's hard not to picture the Bucs' current run as an unending series of tests against the league's very best ballcarriers. Tampa Bay shut down Carolina's Christian McCaffrey and the Giants' Saquon Barkley to an almost surprising degree, which may be why the Rams barely ran Todd Gurley at the Bucs' defense at all. Gurley scored twice, but those three backs combined for 63 rushing yards against what is now the top-ranked run defense in the league. Will it still be at the top of that list after Sunday? The Saints are certainly not going to refrain from giving the ball to Alvin Kamara, though they may choose to do it more through the air than direct handoffs. Either way, stopping Kamara, perhaps the best dual-threat running back in the league, will be critical to the Bucs' getting a third straight win on the road.
QBs in the Spotlight – For the first time since 2005, the Buccaneers will play a Saints team that is not led by quarterback Drew Brees. That has thrust Teddy Bridgewater into the spotlight, as he is tasked with keeping the Saints' offense moving and their place in the playoff race secure until Brees comes back from his thumb injury, which will be at least another month. The Saints traded a third-round pick to the Jets for Bridgewater in 2018, even with Brees still going strong, and that's paying off now as New Orleans has won both of Bridgewater's starts. In fact, New Orleans made Bridgewater the highest-paid backup quarterback in the league when he hit free agency this spring, obviously very eager to keep him around. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's own passer, Jameis Winston, is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, and he seems to be getting more comfortable and more proficient in Bruce Arians' offense every week. Since a bumpy season opener, Winston has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games, with only two picks. The Bucs could have an advantage in this matchup, which is usually hard to say when you're playing a Drew Brees team, but Bridgewater is far from an untested backup.
Ball Security – After taking the ball away four times in Los Angeles, the Buccaneers have now forced nine turnovers on the season; only the New England Patriots have forced more, with 10. More importantly, the Buccaneers have scored 45 points as a result of those takeaways, either directly as with Ndamukong Suh's game-clinching fumble return against the Rams, or on the drives that were created by those defensive plays. However, the Saints have been very good at protecting the football so far this year, with just three interceptions thrown and one lost fumble. Tampa Bay's defense gave up 33 points (the other seven came on a pick-six) and more than 500 yards in L.A. but made up for it by scoring or setting up four touchdowns. If the Saints are able to move the ball as effectively against the Bucs as the Rams were, the Bucs' defense will likely need to pry the ball loose a couple times to keep up on the scoreboard.
Receiving Attention – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin may just be staking out their place as the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. Through four weeks, Godwin is third in the NFL with 386 receiving yards, though that's only a little ahead of Evans, who is sixth with 368. Both are tied for the league lead with four touchdown catches. Godwin has had more volume with 26 catches, but Evans has had the biggest plays, with a 20.4-yard average that ranks sixth in the NFL. Opposing defenses can't double-team both of them, particularly with O.J. Howard and Cam Brate to worry about, and they are both unselfish enough to be happy whomever is getting the ball. After Evans' huge three-touchdown outing against the Giants and Godwin's 12-172-2 line in Los Angeles, will the duo continue to heat up or will the Saints' defense find a way to slow them down? New Orleans' pass defense ranks just 24th through four games but has a pair of first-round cornerbacks in Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple.
1. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Saints CB Eli Apple
In fact, those two streaking Bucs receivers are the perfect place to start in search of Sunday's key matchups, as at least one of them is sure to be involved in a one-on-one battle that becomes a big factor in the game's outcome. Evans and Lattimore have already had a handful of noteworthy clashes over the past two years, but how Apple handles Godwin might be even more significant this time around. One would expect the Saints to continue to deploy their top man, Lattimore, on Evans, which might mean that Godwin has a slightly easier path to getting open. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints' defense ranks 26th in defending their opponents' number-two wide receiver. It's true that Godwin's production is blurring the lines between first and second in the Bucs' offense, but the Saints are likely to still treat Evans as the Bucs' top receiving target.
2. Saints C Erik McCoy vs. Buccaneers NT Vita Vea
The Saints used their top 2019 draft pick (a second-rounder) on their replacement for the now-retired Max Unger, and early returns suggest that they made a smart investment that will be paying off for a long time. McCoy has been a starter since Week One and has more than held his own, but he'll have his hands full in Week Five with Vea, the Bucs' massive nose tackle and 2018 first-round draft pick. Vea has been at the middle of Tampa Bay's top-ranked rush defense and though he doesn't have a sack yet he's second on the team to Shaq Barrett with five quarterback hits. According to Football Outsiders, the Buccaneers have been the hardest team to run against behind the guards and tackles, with carries deemed to be up the middle gaining just 2.37 yards per try. McCoy has strong hands and good awareness and can sustain blocks, but that's easier said than done against a man who has both the size and nimble feet that Vea does.
3. Buccaneers T Demar Dotson vs. Saints DE Cameron Jordan
Jordan's primary calling card is obviously his 73.5 sacks, including 25.0 in the previous two seasons and two already this year, but he is also adept at shedding blocks and can be a nightmare for teams trying to get their running backs around the edge. Jordan also has excellent play awareness and isn't quick to fall for fakes. If he does get into the opposing backfield, he can turn on the Jets and close the distance between him and a quarterback or a running back surprisingly quick. The Saints primarily rush Jordan from the left side of their front line, which means he'll most often be the responsibility of Dotson, the Buccaneers' right tackle. The Buccaneers' most tenured player, Dotson is having yet another consistent and reliable season. Tampa Bay's offensive line as a whole is coming off one of its best performances in some time in the team's 55-40 win over the Rams. Jameis Winston was sacked twice on 43 dropbacks but otherwise not pressured much and the Bucs' offense had time to let downfield play-action plays develop. Dotson will need to hold up strong against Jordan if Winston is to have another big day in New Orleans.
4. Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Buccaneers ILB Lavonte David
The Saints may do as the Rams did and choose not to run into the teeth of the Bucs' powerful front too often, but they certainly aren't going to minimize the role of running back Alvin Kamara, their best offensive player with Drew Brees on the shelf. Fortunately for them, Kamara is arguably even more dangerous as a pass-catcher, and if he gets the ball with any room to run he'll almost certainly record some explosive plays. David, the Buccaneers' rangy linebacker who is thriving in the team's new defense, will be one of the key players tasked with making sure Kamara doesn't get that room. A sure tackler in the open field, David needs to help limit Kamara's yards after the catch, a stat in which he is annually among the NFL's league leaders in terms of running backs.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
· OLB Shaq Barrett (groin) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Jack Cichy (elbow) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· CB Jamel Dean (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Demar Dotson (calf) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Chris Godwin (hip) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· C Ryan Jensen (back) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· DL Vita Vea (neck) – WEDS: LP: THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Devin White (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Vonn Bell (back) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· QB Drew Brees (right thumb) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· G Will Clapp (hand) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S J.T. Gray (hand) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DE Trey Hendrickson (neck) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· DE Cameron Jordan (calf) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· G Andrus Peat (thigh) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Tre'Quan Smith (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
Domed stadium. Outside: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 92, low of 77, 50% chance of rain, 71% humidity, winds out of the E at 14 mph.
Head referee: Brad Allen (six seasons, six as referee)
· Favorite: Saints (-3.5)
· Over/Under: 47.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Matt Gay, 39
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans/WR Chris Godwin, 4
Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 1,167
Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 95.8
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 234
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 26
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 386
Interceptions: four tied w/1
Sacks: OLB Shaq Barrett, 9.0
Tackles: LB Lavonte David, 30
Points Scored: K Wil Lutz, 36
Touchdowns: RB Alvin Kamara, 2
Passing Yards: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 535
Passer Rating: QB Drew Brees, 94.8
Rushing Yards: RB Alvin Kamara, 280
Receptions: WR Michael Thomas, 34
Receiving Yards: WR Michael Thomas, 361
Interceptions: S Marcus Williams, 2
Sacks: DE Trey Hendrickson, 3.0
Tackles: S Vonn Bell, 31
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 4th (30.8 ppg)
Total Offense: 10th (386.8 ypg)
Passing Offense: 8th (273.5 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 15th (113.3 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 10th (22.0)
Third-Down Pct.: 20th (38.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 25th (8.63%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 24th (47.1%)
Scoring Defense: 30th (29.3 ppg)
Total Defense: 21st (377.5 ypg)
Passing Defense: 31st (318.3 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (59.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 26th (22.5)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 9th (35.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 21st (6.04%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 5th (42.9%)
Turnover Margin: 7th (+3)
Scoring Offense: t-18th (21.0 ppg)
Total Offense: 26th (321.3 ypg)
Passing Offense: 24th (218.8 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 19th (102.5 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 24th (18.3)
Third-Down Pct.: 14th (40.8%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 14th (5.93%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 29th (36.4%)
Scoring Defense: 16th (23.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 26th (391.3 ypg)
Passing Defense: 24th (279.3 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 20th (112.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 21st (21.8)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (41.2%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 16th (7.09%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 25th (66.7%)
Turnover Margin: t-8th (+2)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· WR Mike Evans has 45 career touchdowns, 44 on receptions and one on a fumble recovery in the end zone. After getting his fourth score in the last two weeks on a 67-yard catch against the Rams in Week Four, Evans needs just one more to tie James Wilder for the second-most touchdowns in team history.
· OLB Shaq Barrett has already tied the NFL records for most sacks in his team's first three games of a season (8.0) and first four games of a season (9.0). Kevin Greene holds the record through five games at 10.0 with Carolina in 1998, so Barrett could tie him with one or set a new record with at least 1.5.
· QB Jameis Winston, the Week Four NFC Offensive Player of the Week, has 1,167 passing yards through four games. If he throws for at least 190 yards in the Superdome on Sunday, he would set a new team record for most passing yards through the first five games of a season.
· Tampa Bay's defense has allowed a league-low 237 rushing yards so far this season. If it holds Alvin Kamara and the Saints to 63 or fewer rushing yards it will have allowed its lowest total ever in that category through the first five games of a season.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on the challenges the Saints present: "They've built a hell of a roster. They've got depth everywhere. Getting Sheldon Rankins back adds to that front. They've got speed on defense. They have a great kicking game. So, Sean [Payton's] always had a hell of a football team – it's just the offense has overshadowed it a little bit. Right now, they're relying on the defense and the defense is showing up."
· WR Chris Godwin on the Bucs' recent scoring output (86 points in the last two games): "Honestly, I think every time we come into a game we expect to go in and attack the defense. I think we've shown that we have the potential to be a really potent offense. That's how we attack each week. We're really confident in our ability not only to put together a great game plan but to go out and execute it."
· QB Jameis Winston on Arians saying he is playing at a high level: "Me, I've just got to continue to do well. [Arians] says all the time, 'Yeah, we're playing good, but what are we going to do this week?' Goody [Harold Goodwin], our offensive line coach, had an old Janet Jackson quote: 'What have you done for me lately?' He hit me with that, but that's how it is. This is a snap-and-clear league. Yes, we enjoy wins, and we've got to treat wins and losses the same by going on to the next week, but when you've got a head coach that has faith in his team like that, you can't let that man down. You've got to do your best week-in and week-out, and that starts with us practicing out there and having that same approach at practice, taking it one day at a time."
· Arians on the Buccaneers' defensive line applying pressure and the importance of that in New Orleans: "Yeah, I'd like to get home a few more times. We were disruptive, we got [Jared] Goff off the spot a lot. He made some hellacious throws as he was moving around, but we were chasing him around. We wanted to get him off the spot, and if we can do that with Teddy [Bridgewater] against this offensive line – which is probably as big and strong as any we've seen – then we'll be successful."
· CB Vernon Hargreaves on why the Buccaneers have been able to force more turnovers this year: "Our front seven. Our front seven – they're dominating right now. They're playing really good. They understand what they're doing, they understand how to get to the quarterback and how to stop the run. They're helping us out. They are our defense right now, and we need them to keep playing well."